The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 05/07/2006

Doorstop Interview

Solomon Islands

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

SUBJECTS: Solomons, guest workers, leadership, economy, forestry

TREASURER:

Look I think it was a good conference, there was a lot of focus on the importance of governance as economic reform and I think that that was really reemphasised when you, we had a case study on how the Pacific is performing economically compared to how some comparable countries in the Indian Ocean such as Mauritius and the Maldives were performing and the Pacific is falling behind and there are a lot of lessons to be drawn there. Australia is not only making a contribution for aid but we are making a contribution to the Solomons for law and order but the biggest contribution we can make is with governance and economic reforms to get these countries on a sustainable economic footing.

JOURNALIST:

There is a big push obviously on labour mobility and a study into you know, a lot of the people here that would like to come to Australia but you are not too keen on that idea of guest workers?

TREASURER:

No, I am not keen on the idea of guest workers. Guest workers are people that come on short term, generally are unskilled and around (inaudible) a period of time and expelled. I don’t think that produces long term benefits for Pacific Island nations.

JOURNALIST:

But you have agreed to have a study as an option.

TREASURER:

Well the Forum was asking for a study to be done on the benefits. You have got to understand this; Australia is a migration country, we invite people to come to Australia who have skills and to become Australians. We are not a guest worker country, we invite people to come in at low wages and then round them up and send them home again.

JOURNALIST:

And just on your week, you made the point that you were here for the inaugural one ten years ago and you have had a week where you have been talking a lot about federalism and your agenda for the future, I mean, did you expect to still be coming back here ten years ago, you would still be Treasurer when you…?

TREASURER:

Well I had always hoped so, of course. One hopes that one has a long career in politics.

JOURNALIST:

But I take it this week that you know, you are outlining this agenda, the five point plan in the speech for a future beyond being a Treasurer.

TREASURER:

Oh well, I had an opportunity to speak at a lunch on the 100 most influential Australians and I nominated five areas that I think have to be dealt with by Australia this century. We are not in the 20th century anymore, we are in the 21st century. These are five problems that have bedevilled Australia and they need to be fixed. And they won’t be easy to fix, that is why they haven’t been fixed by now. But I think Australia will be a better place when they are fixed.

JOURNALIST:

And you are saying this is your own long term agenda for Australia?

TREASURER:

Well I would like to make my contribution to doing that but it is going to take good will on all sides to improve the federation, a federation that is not working in the interests of Australia. To turn around the fertility rate, we have made some progress in relation to that, to improve access to water which is still our biggest natural problem. These are big issues and I think people of goodwill will want to work on them in the interests of our country.

JOURNALIST:

One issue that you didn’t mention in that list was the importance of leadership transitions. Are we running out of time to achieve that before the next election?

TREASURER:

Well I don’t speculate on these things, Michael.

JOURNALIST:

But surely, it becomes a point though where it is too late to make a change over where the continuity will have to do, what is it, 13th, 14th Budget, you would probably know better than I. Which Budget is it, next time?

TREASURER:

I don’t know, but I don’t speculate on these things.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just ask you just a plain simple question? Is there an understanding between you and Mr Howard as to his departure?

TREASURER:

Look, these things have worked in the interests of the Australian people and the Liberal Party and the people concerned and there is no point in speculating on it.

JOURNALIST:

That sounds a little bit like a Liberal Party policy of new paternalism. I mean, don’t voters have a right to know what is going on? If you are saying it will work in their interests, don’t they have a right to know what the plan is?

TREASURER:

Well, voters get the right to vote, that is the critical thing and they will get the right to vote on who they want to run the country.

JOURNALIST:

And you won’t be telling them any time soon whether there will be a leadership transition before the next election?

TREASURER:

And they will have plenty of information at the time of the election.

JOURNALIST:

The answer to Malcolm’s question was a ‘no,’ though, was it?

TREASURER:

I can’t remember the question.

JOURNALIST:

Is there an understanding…

TREASURER:

The answer to Malcolm’s question was my answer to Malcolm’s question.

JOURNALIST:

So there is no Kirribilli agreement?

TREASURER:

So don’t speculate, I am not going to speculate on these things.

JOURNALIST:

But there is no secret arrangements or secret deals that we are not aware of, there has been no arrangement, no deal?

TREASURER:

For I think about the fifth time, I am not going to speculate on these things and I am certainly not going to speculate on these things in the jungles of the Solomon Islands.

JOURNALIST:

Why not?

JOURNALIST:

How do you see the political environment for the Government? You have had a sort of quiet period in the polls arguably for some time, we are sort of more than half way through the electoral cycle, I am just wondering what you see as the main dynamics of the…?

TREASURER:

Look, I think the critical issue for Australia is economic management. And here is the issue for economic management. It is how to lock in our prosperity. The things that we have done over the last ten years has led to a fall in unemployment, balancing the Budget, retirement of debt and continuous growth. The critical thing now is to lock in that prosperity. That is my message. To lock it in for a long time because countries can go backwards and I don’t want Australia to be one of them.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be attending this forum next year?

TREASURER:

Well, let’s get home from the current one before we work on the next one, Michael.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

[TAPE BREAK]

JOURNALIST:

…are you quite shocked at the prognosis for their virgin forests?

TREASURER:

Well the prognosis is very bad that within a short period of time maybe as early as five years, certainly within ten years, the whole of the virgin forests of the Solomon Islands will be cut down and because timber is the most important source of foreign exchange for the Solomon Islands, it is going to leave them in a very perilous position. Now, the only thing that you can do to rectify that situation is to husband the virgin forest, manage them properly and engage in re-planting and we have seen an example of plantation teak which I think is a pretty exciting project and it has the capacity to re-develop an industry which is so important to the Solomon Islands and it is a great aid project, this is practical aid from Australia to help our Pacific neighbours and I congratulate everybody involved.